J.S. BACH: Suite No. 1 in G Major; Suite No. 2 in d minor and Suite No. 3 in C Major – Hopkinson Smith, German Theorbo – Naïve
J.S. Bach’s collection of suites for solo cello stand alongside his greatest creations, monuments to his genius for musical composition. Lutenist Hopkinson Smith has transcribed the first three Bach’s Cello Suites for the German Theorbo, a large Renaissance lute. While these adaptations are not by the composer, certainly they fall into the realm of acceptability. At least that is the way I listen to them. Bach is known as a recycler of material previously composed by himself and noted for borrowing from other composers.
Smith, in his informative notes in the insert, is not shy about mentioning that some people may not like what he has done in his adaptations, but others might indeed enjoy them. Smith is a gifted musician who has done a laudable job with these transcriptions. Anyone liking the cello suites should warm to these adaptations, unless he or she has an aversion to the lute or adaptations in general.
Smith points out that there have been other adaptations on the Baroque lute plus on the French/Italian theorbo or chitarrone. Smith rejected these instruments because they did not ”…match the sound and aesthetic ideal that I find most appropriate for the first three of the six suites.” Instead Smith chose the theorbo invented and developed by Sylvius Weiss in the 1720s. Weiss was a distinguished composer and performer and his music is still heard today.
Smith decided to call Weiss’ instrument the German theorbo to clarify its difference from other lutes and theorbos. Weiss called his instrument a ‘theorbe’ with its larger body and longer strings. These physical changes produce a fuller sound for use in chamber performances and with orchestras.
Smith descibes these suites as , “…Melodious, boisterous, amazingly delicate, expansively lyrical, …[and] cleverly busy with detail in complicated figuration…” He points out that some of the tempos he adopts are different from those heard on the cello, namely slower because of the German thoerbo’s resonance and fuller harmonies.
These first three suites were recorded in 2012. The informative and comprehensive insert booklet is in English and French.
by John Sunier (Audiophile Audition)